EDITORIAL

Biomedical Innovation in 2016

T echnology development and its continued evolution will make all the difference for health progress in 2016. For example, intelligent agents will actively converse with you, reminding you of things that are happening or need to happen and what can be done. Thus, these agents will increasingly play an active role in your life and provide you with a unique type of augmented reality. Of course, your health will be a central topic of discussion.

Blockchains for Your Health

One key trend for 2016 is the increasing importance of data. However, one of the problems with solving biomedical problems through sharing data is the lack of privacy. To solve this issue, the use of blockchains for your health data through multiple applications will become common. From your health records to conformation of supplement adherence, there are many opportunities to create new values and enhance health-related experiences.

One typical application ready for blockchain protection is Apple Health, an easy-to-read dashboard of your health and fitness data. Even though this application is encrypted as it moves back and forth to the cloud, blockchains will secure against the collection of health data for profit, which big data companies such as Apple are apt to do. On the other hand, blockchains—used as the backbone of bitcoin protocol—is a permissionless distributed database that maintains a continuously growing list of transactional data records hardened against tampering and revision, even by operators of the data provider’s nodes.

While the influence of mobile and digital health will continue to grow, the widespread use of blockchains will make big heath data much more secure and accelerate growth and usage. This will greatly extend the value of big data for health purposes.

Secure Data Will Promote Usage of the Human Microbiome

Recent years have seen significant advancements in personal genomics (see www.23andme.com). But genetics aren’t the only (or perhaps even the most important) collection of deeply individualized insights into our total health profile. The human microbiome is the next huge personalized health and wellness frontier. And it’s a game-changer.

We are all far more bacterial than cellular, with trillions of microorganisms in our bodies exceeding our human cells tenfold. These microorganisms interact with our human cells—all the time and in multiple ways. They have a far greater impact on our health, than anyone would have supposed just a few years ago. While altering and engineering our genes is accelerating, we can actually affect our personal microbiome on a daily basis to improve management of a wide range of health issues including allergies, nutrition, diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and even obesity and mental wellbeing.

As research unveils knowledge about the human microbiome, the possibilities are amazing. Research labs and innovative startups are developing solutions that use bacterial samples from your gut to profile your body’s reaction to the foods you eat.

In 2016 we can expect to see a world where our “gut type” can be catalogued, similar to our blood type. With such personalized and actionable information, the supplement and food industry will rush to fulfill the demand for the health benefits that designer foods can achieve.

Virtual Reality for Pain

While Virtual Reality is already universal in the worlds of gaming and entertainment, the opportunity for VR to transform medical therapies is wide open. In 2016, VR will become a treatment option for many ailments, including post-traumatic shock, chronic pain, exposure therapy, and other conditions.

Already, as an example, burn patients undergoing medical procedures can wear Oculus Rift VR goggles can elicit a strong illusion of presence and reduce pain during VR, reducing their need for highly addictive narcotic medications.

VR therapy is so successful in transforming a patient’s mental and emotional state that it could have a wide range of applications in healthcare: from pain management, to pediatric care, and treating psychological conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety disorders. VR companies have a huge opportunity to design both hardware and therapeutic games for many medical treatments.

Wearable Data Collectors: 2016 Will Be a Growth Year

Wearable data collection devices have already measured activity levels and sleep patterns. This will enhance growth through “crowd sourcing” data to automatically and objectively evaluate products and services we use.

It’s easy to imagine what this will do for exercise classes (based on the crowd sourcing data of participants). The same would be true for evaluations of mattresses based on users’ sleep. The biometric responses of people for everything from dining out, thrill seeking, the stress of commuting, and much more, will pay handsome health benefits.

But this will not happen unless wearable companies open their data troves for data mining conducted by third parties. And this will not happen unless blockchains are integrated into the thousands of applications of different wearable data collectors sensing and tracking myriad things, each producing mountains of data. To confidently compile this information into one secure vault will be the vastest obstacle, but for those who do, success will follow.

And then there will be medical wearables, which should enter the market and replace less-precise and costlier medical therapies. They will undoubtedly reduce invasive procedures, while generating highly effective treatments for assorted conditions.

Smaller and Smaller Wearables

Miniaturization of sensors will be combined with multipurpose sensors—even the notion of visible, discrete, battery powered sensors will become outdated—as companies such as Well Being Digital (see http://www.wbd101.com) are pathfinding their way into the future.

Well Being Digital and others such as Clime (see http://www.climesense.com) are enabling biometric integration into daily life. These companies are producing tiny biosensors that fit on and around the human body, and environmental sensors that combine a tiny form factor with the ability to fuse together basic measurements such as temperature, humidity, light and movement to drive subtle applications.

Fortunately, we will notice this transition first in medical uses, where being cheap, small, and disposable is a major benefit. Next it will show up in consumer user sensors where bulky AAA battery-operated temperature sensors will be replaced. For a fraction of the old price, users will have up to a dozen sensors packed into something the size of a thumbnail, rather than the size of a deck of cards. As you will hear again and again: adapt or be irrelevant.

The Tracking Range Will Expand

In 2016, new companies are planning to roll out dozens of new devices that go way beyond mere counting. Soon you’ll be able to buy new wearables for everything from asthma management, to back pain, and your healthcare professional doctor will even be able to set you up with patches that track indicators about your health. Less expensive and faster point of care testing (POC) enables new diagnostic care models. Delivering new POC test platforms with capabilities such as molecular POC, connectivity features, biosensors and microfluidics is able to drastically improve turnaround times (5 to 15 minutes) and allow for testing services to be performed in settings previously not feasible.

And that’s not all. Artificial Intelligence is all around us, although most can’t see it because it is hidden in more and more systems. At the start of this article intelligent agents were explicitly touted for their teaching skills, so let’s pretend a conversation in which we ask: “Eras are frequently given a name such as gay nineties, roaring twenties, silent generation, hippie, postmodern, and so on. If you were able to give a name to our era, what would that be?” She says (AIs can have female personas): “The innovationist era, especially the health innovationist era.” May 2016 be similarly named. Let it be the year of the health innovationist.

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